Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Thank you to those of you who have sent me a Christmas Card.  I have never sent out a card but I'm doing my online this year.

2012 has been a great year for me personally, professionally and spiritually.

I am still working at KWAY radio in Waverly, Iowa.  I am on air from 5:00 to 1:00 everyday and I enjoy the opportunity my job gives me to be involved in my community.  Working at the station has enabled me to meet so many people; in fact, it's hard to go anywhere in town without saying hello to at least one person I know.  Another aspect of my job that I love is broadcasting sporting events.  I get the opportunity to do: volleyball, football, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball at the high school level and college football for my alma mater Wartburg College.  This year alone I did 139 games/matches.

2012 was also a fantastic and full year for me in other organizations.  I was this year's president of the Waverly Jaycees.  While it was a lot of work it was also a lot of fun.  We put on a number of fun, community minded events like: the G.R.A.B. (Great Ride Around Bremer) biking event, the School Supply Drive, Santa Callers, and many more.  The Jaycees is another way I get to be involved in my community positively.

Of course, my involvement in my church, Grace Baptist, has been a joy of mine.  This year we hired a new worship and outreach pastor and I'm seeing a lot of spiritual growth in Grace because of that hire.  I'm also still involved with the youth.  I covet the opportunities I get to work with them and teach them; they are a huge passion of mine.  It is hard though watching them move off to college but I'm glad I get to be a part of preparing them for life on their own.  The youth group this year has been full of kids who really desire to know God more and that has fueled me this whole year.  Also, in Grace I get the opportunity to be a part of our young adult Bible study.  My friends in this study have helped grow me, ground me and spur me on to more.  I thank God for them.

Personally 2012 has been a great year.  It began much like any year.  In fact, on my birthday (Jan. 3) I remember thinking, "Here we go again."  I had the feeling that 2012 was going to be just like 2011 for my personal life.  However, in January of this year I was given an opportunity to speak to a group at our church that puts on an Easter Passion Mime.  When I got up to share a short message from Ephesians I realized I knew everybody except a UNI student sitting in the front row just left of where I was standing.  I didn't think much about seeing her, but throughout the months I was able to be around her.  I saw her all Spring as she prepared with the group for the mime.  I saw her many times during the summer at our friends' house.  I got to see her impecable character, immense kindness, service-minded attitude and fun-loving nature.  Long story short she kept hinting and I eventually got the courage to ask Christine out in September.  Thank God I did.  We've been dating ever since and I'm so happy 2012 is ending differently than it began.  I'm thrilled to have Christine with me this year as we make the rounds to see everyone this Christmas.

Finally and most importantly, 2012 has been another year of spiritual maturation for me.  Through the input of others and some personal disciplines I've been able to grow closer to my God.  This blog is one of those disciplines because it helps me think critically about what I read.  I hope it is in a small way helpful to you, too.  Another thing that has helped me grow this year were some fantastic books like: Whatever Happened to Worship, Messy Church, The Knowledge of the Holy, and studies like Surprised by Hope have stretched my thinking.  It has been a great year of growth in 2012 spiritually.

That is a brief glimpse into my year.  I know I'm missing some major milestones but my memory is only so good.  I hope you've had a great 2012 and I thank you for the impact you've had on my life this year.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year friends,
Matt Ray

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent- Jesus Came to Make Us New

Jesus came to make us new.  When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior we are made new... both later and now.  Later we will be perfectly new but now we are becoming new.  I've found a couple of great ways to tell the now part of the story.  One is a poem and one is a short video.  Please watch the video and read this poem and think about how the Master takes our broken pieces and makes beautiful music today.

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"

But, No, 
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.

"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

Myra Brooks Welch

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mary's Treasure and Our Pain

For today's post I need to tell the story of Jesus' birth.  I want to spend extra time looking at Luke 2:19.  In order to tell the rest of the story I've invited my friend Linus to share.

To finish the story:
"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told"
Luke 2:15-20

This is a very familiar story, one that I've heard hundreds of times.  I want to look at one verse because I recently read it in a new way.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Why is this verse so important?  Why is this included in the middle of a story about the shepherds rejoicing at seeing God's glory and sharing their story of God's glory?

Mothers treasure up the moments surrounding the birth of their children.  Ask your mother, if she is still with you, to tell you about the day you were born.  I'm sure she could tell you detail after detail.  Mothers treasure these moments.

But I believe that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart for more than just the typical reasons.  Mary needed to remember these moments because, unbeknownst to her, she would have to watch her son die and be laid a tomb.  Mary was going to go through a hellishly tough time.  God prepared her for that by having her store up the good moments with Jesus.

God still does this.  I recently read a book by a local woman named Ranae Krull.  She wrote about a terrible accident her son Isaiah had.  She wrote about watching him in a coma and watching him struggle through a long, long recovery.  She wrote about watching him live his life in a much different manner than she expected.  But she also wrote about how God's Word and songs got her through that time.  She explained how in moments of intense suffering God would remind her of verses and truths that she had treasured earlier in her heart.

When we have times of pain it is difficult to begin to search God's Word and find comfort.  Our minds can be in a fog.  What happens so often is that the verses, songs and truths that we memorized and pondered previously in our heart rise to the surface to kiss us in the tough time.  Thank God that He helps us store up evidences of grace in our good times to be used in the tough times.

So, be like Mary.  Treasure up Jesus and His words and ponder them in your heart.  I'm sure that in your dark days those treasures will rise up like a comforting kiss.  But they can't rise to the top if they aren't there.  Treasure the Word of God and ponder it in your heart today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

He Dwelt Amongst Us

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."- John 1:14

We are now in a season of Advent which is a fun time.  People are busy buying gifts, planning parties and enjoying beautiful lights all around town.  Advent and the anticipation of Christmas is a special time.  But we need remember what Christmas is all about.

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."

Use your imagination with me.  Imagine Jesus, who was and is and always will be.  Jesus who created the universe and ruled it.  Jesus who lived in perfect loving unity with God the Father and God the Spirit.  Jesus who was constantly praised and worshipped by the creatures in heaven.  This Jesus became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

Jesus abandoned all the glory of heaven to dwell amongst men.  But He didn't just live with us; He lived as one of us.  Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of a human.

Imagine with me:  Jesus, the aforementioned king of the universe, unable to express the fact that He had made a mess in His pants so He cries uncontrollably.  Martin Luther wrote in the song "Away in a Manager" this line, "But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes."  Sorry Martin but I'm sure Jesus cried like a normal baby.  He subjected Himself to the limitations of an infant.

Imagine this with me:  One day Jesus walks up to Mary and starts asking questions about some changes in His body.  I can just picture this: "Joseph!  You need to have a talk with your son.  You know 'THE talk'."  I'm sure Jesus went through puberty as awkwardly as all the other Jewish boys in town.  Sinlessly but awkwardly.  Sinlessly but within the limitations of His human body.

Jesus can relate with us.  "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."

If this was the end of the Christmas story it would still be an amazing story.  God dwelt with His people to understand their predicament or maybe more accurately to prove He understood.  No human can now say, "God you just don't know what it's like down here."  God the Son understands completely because He lived it completely.

But here's great news... the Word didn't just live among us He died for us and rose again!  Jesus in complete obedience to His Father and out of love for you and I came to earth and did battle with death defeating it once and for all!

This Advent remember what Christ did for us on the cross.  But beyond that, remember what a sacrifice He made just to come and dwell amongst us.  Thank God for His incarnation today.